Capt. Tommie Jarman handed me a pair of “Sneads Ferry sneakers,” or white rubber boots — rubber so that I wouldn’t slip on the wet deck of the boat; white so that I wouldn’t leave scuff marks — and I climbed aboard his 35-foot wooden shrimp trawler named Faith & Hope.
Captain Jarman runs Reel Livin’ Fishing Charters in Sneads Ferry, a small fishing village on the New River in Onslow County that’s been christened the “Shrimp Capital of the East Coast” and is home to the North Carolina Shrimp Festival. Only about 2,700 people live here year-round, and judging from the number of trawlers and fishing boats I saw outside of Davis Seafood, outside of Mitchell’s Seafood, outside of Grant’s Oyster House, I’d say it’s a safe bet that there are far more shrimp here than people.
If you live here, you likely have a boat, and I saw plenty of skiffs, sun-battered dinghies, and charters painted with appropriate names: Knot Today, Shells and Tails, Just a Fluke.
I’ve been a passenger on a few North Carolina boats over the years — Capt. Dale Britt’s Sensation, boatbuilder Jarrett Bay’s first custom boat; Capt. Steve Bishop’s 45-foot catamaran in Beaufort; Capt. Scott Martin’s water taxi on the Lockwood Folly River — pleasure cruises all, but this was the first one where I got to do some work. I was aboard Captain Jarman’s boat to learn firsthand what goes into netting a haul of shrimp, what it means to make a living on the water.
I grew up in Randolph County, 175 miles inland from any kind of shrimping. The closest body of water was Lake Lucas, home to catfish and crappie, and the closest thing to fresh seafood I knew was the fried flounder platter at Sea King Fish Camp or the broiled trout at Back Creek. During my three-hour tour with Captain Jarman, I watched him work, gauging our location for the best catch; maneuvering the hydraulics that lower the antennae-like outriggers; hooking nets; clipping pulleys and cables; raising nets and funneling the load of slippery shrimp onto the boat, where I understood, gratefully, why I was wearing those rubber boots.
When I say that I “did some work,” I mean that Captain Jarman let me put on a pair of thick sorting gloves to help filter the shrimp from crabs and other fish, and he took my picture holding our surprise catch — a sheepshead! — that made its way into the net. Which is to say that I did nothing at all other than stand in awe of the people, like Captain Jarman, who make up our fishing industry, the ones who operate the boats and run the charters and ply the waters and support these coastal communities and give our state an economic backbone on which we can all shoulder so much pride.
At the end of our run, as the sun lowered and the water shimmered, Captain Jarman dropped me off at the marina, my cooler full of fresh shrimp, my heart full of admiration for these fishermen and -women, and my appreciation as deep as the briny sea.
Elizabeth Hudson Editor in Chief
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